Herne Bay

The beginnings of the LC&DR's endeavour to break up the SER's monopoly of Thanet can be traced back to a small independent concern known as the "Herne Bay & Faversham Railway". The company was established by an Act of Parliament in 1857 to allow for the extension of the existing line of the East Kent Railway (renamed LC&DR in 1859) from Faversham to Herne Bay via Whitstable, with future plans outlining the inclusion of Margate and Ramsgate. The line was built and opened piecemeal, the Faversham to Whitstable section being commissioned for passenger traffic on 1st August 1860. The SER, attempting to protect its business interests, tried to delay the opening of the Whitstable to Herne Bay section on the basis that the newly built bridge under which the Herne Bay line passed the SER's existing Canterbury to Whitstable branch, was structurally unstable. These claims were unfounded and subsequently, the second section was opened to traffic on 13th July 1861, giving the LC&DR a direct connection to the coastal resort. The SER's Sturry station, which proclaimed on its name boards to serve Herne Bay, was some six miles away!

The construction of the eastward extension from Faversham by an independent concern explains why the main building at Herne Bay is wholly non-standard LC&DR. It more or less resembles an old Victorian school and a virtually identical design opened concurrent at Margate West on 5th October 1863, with the Ramsgate extension. Whilst the arched windows are identifiable with later LC&DR products, the symmetrical two-pitched structure, built in red brick, is unique on this former company’s network (Margate West’s building having succumbed during the Southern Railway’s Thanet reorganisation). On both southern and northern elevations, this building received large canopies featuring a succession of glazed pitch-roof sections (the platform canopy originally had four such sections, but only the larger pair of the entrance canopy survive). After acquiring the line’s assets in 1871, the LC&DR decided to make its own additions to Herne Bay and fairly significant these were too. Immediately to the west of the station building, a two-storey Station Master’s house was erected; its design was readily comparable with those LSWR products west of Salisbury, but a more or less identical building had also been commissioned by the LC&DR on the ‘’up’’ platform at nearby Broadstairs. Naturally, these structures received the customary LC&DR all-over white paint finish. The platform canopy at Herne Bay was extended from the original building to cover the façade of the later Station Master’s house, but this was undertaken using an alternate, more common pitched-roof design. The ‘’up’’ side had been protected by a canopy as large as the original ‘’down’’ side structure from the outset, and even boasted a substantial valance, which its opposite counterpart lacked. The platforms here were staggered, linked by a subway, but the original structures on both sides laid directly opposite each other.

Freight facilities here were initially conservative, probably dating back to when the through route to Ramsgate was opened in 1863. The goods shed, single-track and with a pitched roof, was evidently of the independent company’s own design, it being more elaborate than the plainer LC&DR examples. It was positioned on the ‘’down’’ side, albeit some distance to the west of the platforms, and was accompanied by three sidings, one of which intercepted the structure and another which led to a ‘’dock’’ platform. The ‘’up’’ side was arguably provided with equal storage capacity in 1902, for a pair of lengthy westward-facing coal sidings ran for most of the platform’s length. An additional siding later appeared on the ‘’down’’ side in 1914, serving an adjacent gas works, beyond the western road bridge. Controlling this layout was a ground frame (for the gas works) and a 21-lever signal box; this was positioned on the ‘’up’’ side, to the west of the platform and immediately to the south of the 1902-installed coal sidings

Under Southern Railway ownership, there were some significant alterations, forming part of this company’s general modernisation of East Kent lines. The decision was taken to convert the ‘’up’’ platform to an island by the extension of a single coal siding to create a loop, and rebuild both surfaces in prefabricated concrete delivered from Exmouth Junction. This was undertaken in conjunction with the widening of the platform surface and the installation of a then new, rather austere, riveted steel canopy – a far cry from the grandeur of those contemporary canopies which came into use at Margate and Ramsgate. The island also acquired a second subway entrance, positioned beyond the eastern end of the steel canopy. Cylindrical water tanks came into use at the western and eastern ends of the ‘’up’’ and ‘’down’’ platforms respectively, whilst at the western end of the latter, a replacement signal box came into use. This was fundamentally a taller version of the cabin still in use today at Aylesford. The siding count on both sides of the running lines had remained more or less unchanged. All modifications were deemed officially complete on 11th July 1926, which included brick-built waiting facilities on the island.

Under the Southern Region, the first change occurred to the name boards: from the outset, the station had been known as ‘’Herne Bay & Hampton-on-Sea’’, but the suffix was dropped during March 1951. Then, on 3rd May 1959, the station’s semaphore signals were replaced by colour aspect lights, these being controlled by the 1926-installed signal box. This was then followed by the electrification of the ‘’Chatham’’ main line, both Thanet and Dover routes, on 15th June of the same year. The goods yard remained open to traffic until 16th October 1965, and the gas works siding did not go out of use until 14th March 1966, its ground frame being removed on 20th August of the same year. Coal was the last goods traffic to be handled here, this finally disappearing in 1968. The ‘’up’’ sidings did not last much longer than this, all such tracks going out of use on 10th November 1969 – this included the loop which, although not lifted, was instead converted to siding status and used by engineers’ vehicles. The former island also had its second subway entrance locked out of use at this time and during the 1990s, the disused platform face received railings. The signal box was the next casualty, this being decommissioned on 22nd August 1971, the nearby colour aspect lights being converted for automatic operation. It was demolished, along with the Station Master’s house, and the dreaded ‘’CLASP’’ modular structures appeared in their places. The transformation of Herne Bay was complete.


An eastward view of Herne bay shows the remains of the "down" sidings, which were taken out of use on 3rd May 1966. Beyond can be seen the signal box and, behind that, the whitewashed Station Master's house, which was demolished not long after this view was taken. © Roger Goodrum


The 1926 signal box was built to a then standard SR design, a virtually identical cabin coming into use at Ramsgate. Adjacent to the signal box, on the right, is the relay room, installed at the time of the Kent Coast Electrification Scheme. These allowed existing mechanical cabins to keep control of sidings after the routes were re-signalled. The signal box closed on 22nd August 1971. © Roger Goodrum

10th June 2008

The façade of Herne Bay station is somewhat reminiscent of the design of a traditional Victorian school. Apart from the ground floor windows either side of the canopy, the building is symmetrical. Note the pitched glazed sections of the canopy, mentioned in the main text: the platform canopy once had a succession of four such features. © David Glasspool